When money is a bit short, and you want nice things, the second-hand market is often the place to go if you want a great deal. While that line of thinking may apply to motorcycles, does it also apply to helmets as well?
So the question is, is it okay to buy a pre-owned, pre-loved, or used helmet? Whatever the term may be, there are a few things that you must consider if you spot a good deal on a used lid. There are also different questions that you must ask the seller on the history of the helmet before you pull the trigger. In some cases, it is okay to buy a second-hand lid, but in other cases, it would be advisable not to push through with the deal.
How new is the helmet?
Remember that helmets do expire after a certain period of time. As a rule of thumb, a brand new helmet will last on the shelf for 7 years from the date of production as long as it is unused, but a worn helmet will have a useful life of about 5 years from the first wear before it needs replacing. This is because the expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam which protects your head in the event of a crash has a tendency to degrade over time, especially when exposed to the elements and a rider's sweat.
That being said, you don’t want to purchase a helmet that is near the end of its 5-year lifespan. If you spot a deal for a nice Shoei or Arai that’s 4 years old, you won’t be able to use the helmet for long. On top of that, if it was a well-used lid, chances are the internal pads aren’t worth using. Besides, if you are looking for a helmet that is about a year or two old, then it’s worth considering if the price is right and if it was only used lightly.
Check the ‘RFS’
The RFS or “reason for sale” is a very important piece of information to take note of. There are many different reasons for selling a helmet. For example, you may encounter someone who found that the helmet was not for them or didn’t suit their riding style. Perhaps they’re not into modular helmets and prefer a sport-touring type instead. Perhaps they got the wrong size and wanted something bigger or smaller, or they found that how the helmet fit was not to their liking after trying it out. It could also be that the helmet did not suit the bike the seller is riding. He might have matched his cafe racer with a modern helmet and vice versa. You have to admit there is a bit of vanity involved whenever you strap on an attractive lid—following a theme isn't necessary, but it's darn fun to do so.
In whatever case, the RFS should let you know why the seller is letting go of his lid. It’s better if you ask them yourself to get the whole story. If the sale is being done in earnest, and you find that the seller is trustworthy enough to deal with, then that should be a sign that the deal is going to be a good one.
Is there damage?
Cosmetic damage should be a warning sign, but if it’s something as small as a scratch or a tiny scuff on the shell, it’s nothing to worry about. Start worrying if you see deeper scuffs and road rash, as this could mean that the helmet was crashed in.
If you’re willing to put up with the surface scratches, just make sure that they’re only surface scratches. Otherwise, it’s better to be safe than sorry. We do not recommend that you buy a helmet that has been crashed in, nor is it recommended by helmet manufacturers.
Ask for pictures of the interior without the cheekpads and liners. Get a clear picture of the EPS foam in the helmet and check for any dents in the foam. Any dent would mean that the helmet was in an accident or dropped with something inside it. Either way, dented EPS means that the helmet won’t protect your head as effectively anymore since the foam is designed not to rebound after it is compressed.
Has it been ridden in?
Some second-hand lids will be as pristine as they come. Some are never used because they didn’t fit their previous owner, while others may simply be second-hand items that didn’t suit the seller’s use case. There are a lot of deals like these, and you may be able to haggle down the price since you’re not getting it from an authorized distributor.
However, if the helmet has been ridden in, you may want to ask how many times it has been used. Ideally, if it was used 1 to 3 times on short rides, you’re pretty safe and the helmet can still be considered close to brand new. However, if it has been used over a few hundred kilometers, you may want to reconsider as the helmet’s inner liner and pads may have molded to the first wearer’s face. Regardless of your tolerance, make sure to wash the inner pads before you start using the helmet.
Are there replacement pads?
If the helmet has been used for quite a few kilometers, you may want to consider buying a new pair of cheekpads and a comfort liner. If the helmet you’re buying has been used thoroughly and you are set on pushing through with the deal, take pause and look for replacement cheekpads and comfort liners so that the interior will be as fresh as possible. Any brand worth their salt will be able to sell you a set, and from there you may even tailor the fit by getting a larger or smaller size.
If no pads are available, that could detract from your deal, but this piece of advice only applies to helmets that have been used for many kilometers by the seller.
Is it your size?
Unlike authorized distributors, second-hand sellers will usually have only one helmet available in one specific size. Our advice here is to make sure you’re familiar with your helmet size and fit, specific to the model that you are shopping for. If not, it’s best to remember that an affordable and properly-fitted helmet will protect your head better than an ill-fitting expensive helmet.
That being said…
Don’t get blinded by a great deal simply because it is from your dream helmet company. Consider that helmets are expensive and also expendable pieces of equipment. Buying a second-hand lid is more affordable, but you also have to tread carefully. It’s best to have a look at the helmet and inspect it yourself before you confirm that you’ll be going home with it. Otherwise, you’re better off getting a brand new lid from an authorized retailer.